The men who pulled up in three white pickup trucks were looking for Patson Chipiro, head of the Zimbabwean opposition party in Mhondoro district. His wife, Dadirai, told them he was in Harare but would be back later in the day, and the men departed.
An hour later they were back. They grabbed Mrs Chipiro and chopped off one of her hands and both her feet. Then they threw her into her hut, locked the door and threw a petrol bomb through the window.
The killing last Friday—one of the most grotesque atrocities committed by Robert Mugabe’s regime since independence in 1980—was carried out on a wave of worsening brutality before the run-off presidential elections in just over two weeks. It echoed the activities of Foday Sankoh, the rebel leader in the Sierra Leone civil war that ended in 2002, whose trade-mark was to chop off hands and feet.
Mrs Chipiro, 45, a former pre-school teacher, was the second wife of a junior official of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) burnt alive last Friday by Zanu (PF) militiamen. Pamela Pasvani, the 21-year-old pregnant wife of a local councillor in Harare, did not suffer mutilation but died later of her burns; his six-year-old son perished in the flames.
Yesterday about 70 local MDC supporters gathered in Mr Chipiro’s small yard in Mhondoro, 90 miles south of Harare, to protect him. Inside the hut where his wife of 29 years died, women sang softly to a subdued drum beat next to the cheap wooden coffin. The thatched roof had been destroyed in the fire so they sat under the open sky. The lid could not be closed because Mrs Chipiro’s outstretched arm had burnt rigid. Her charred hand was found as women swept the hut.
Mr Chipiro, 51, a small, determined man, arrived from Harare on Friday afternoon to find his three brick huts ablaze. “I was trying to put the fire out,” he said. “I thought my wife was hiding in the bushes.”
His four-year-old nephew, Admire, heard him calling her. “He ran to me. He said, ‘Auntie has been beaten and they threw her in the fire’.”
Bright Matonga, the Deputy Information Minister and the MP for the area, lives just over a mile away. There is also a Zanu (PF) youth militia camp near by. Mr Matonga routinely blames the violence—in which nearly 70 people have died and 25,000 have been left homeless since the elections on March 29—on Britain and the United States. He claims that they pay the MDC to put on Zanu party regalia and attack Mr Mugabe’s opponents.
When Mr Chipiro went to the police, they refused to give him an official crime incident report. They fetched the body at about 10pm, he said. A post-mortem examination was carried out at St Michael’s Catholic mission hospital. At first police gave Mr Chipiro a report that left out the causes of death. An officer intervened and produced an authentic report.
The report said that seven men assaulted Mrs Chipiro “before dragging her in one of the houses and set all three houses on fire”. It said that the body showed “signs of assault since all hands and legs were broken”. The doctor who carried out the post-mortem described the cause of death as haemorrhaging and severe burns. “These youths are taught cruelty,” Mr Chipiro said. “They get used to murdering. They enjoy murdering. They are doing it for money.”
He said that thugs returned for him two nights ago but fled when they saw his supporters. “I am very frightened,” he said. “They want to kill me. But I have no alternative. My presence here as a leader is very important. If I leave, everyone else will leave. I intend to fight the battle, from here.”